Vinyl bucks the trend as CD sales continue to slide

In what continues to be a bad-news era for the music industry, data analysts Neilsen Soundscan has announced that physical CD and digital album sales in the USA fell by 11 per cent in the first six months of 2008. Vinyl LP sales, however, rose by 77 per cent.

In total, the industry shifted 204.6 million units, compared to 229.8 million a year ago.

There was a glimmer of hope for a beleaguered industry, in that digital sales continued to rise. However, the public’s uptake of digital downloads is not happening as fast as the music industry would like in order to compensate for the precipitous physical decline.

The dismal results were compounded by the fact that although digital sales were up 34 per cent to 31.6 million units, this only represents 15.5 per cent of the overall album totals. This, despite Apple recently posting sales of one billion individual track downloads, is an a la carte approach to music consumption that the industry is not entirely comfortable with.

The closure of key record chains – such as Virgin Megastores – has been cited as one reason for the collapse in physical sales, as well as a reduction in shelf space devoted to music in department stores and supermarkets. Record companies also sought solace in the fact that the decline year-on-year this time is less severe than between the comparable periods of 2006 and 2007.

However, in an ironic twist to the sorry tale, salvation of sorts has come from the unlikeliest of sources: vinyl sales in the same period soared by nearly 77 per cent. Apparently, the death of vinyl continues to be greatly exaggerated. The total may be small, but the trend is continuously upward – from 454,000 units to 803,000 this time around.

Echoing the American trend, it was recently reported that Irish sales of vinyl records have increased by 20 per cent in the first half of 2008, compared with the same period last year. Compact discs slumped by 11 per cent.

Retailers report that there is strong interest in vinyl reissues of classic albums, as well as new releases from both mainstream and alternative artists. The long-held belief in the “warmth” of vinyl’s sound, as well as the imposing weight and gravity of the physical product and the album artwork – especially when compared to the ephemeral nature of digital downloads – go some way to explaining vinyl’s renaissance.

One Dublin music retailer, Dave Kennedy of Road Records, commented: “We get a lot of people who have iPods in their pockets and they are still buying records. They realise they’ve no physical product at home because everything is in this little white box.”

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